How Big is a Small Car?


Yes, Virginia, that is a Chevy Aveo looking every bit as big as a 2nd-gen Chevy S-10 pickup.  My, my.

I snapped the picture a few months ago, and had intended to use it as a comparison shot between the Aveo and its replacement, the Chevy Sonic.  Sadly, I forgot all about the snapshot until I decided to clear out my phone’s memory … and there it was, staring me in the face.

That “it” I’m referring to?  A simple fact:  a 2009-ish Chevy Aveo (the smallest car GM will sell you) isn’t that much smaller than Chevy’s 1999-ish body-on-frame S-10 pickup.

Oh, sure – there’s a bit of “perspective” being played out in that photo … but not much.  Not enough to make the image seem “forced” or “mis-leading”, I think.  No, the real issue here is bloat – something that we (via Jalopnik) covered back in December of last year by tracking the bloat of Honda’s Accord, which has grown from 170″ long, 2050 lb econocar into a 195″ long, 3200 lb land beast (below).

Click to Enlarge.

What about Chevy’s “little” Aveo hatchback?  I’d compare that to Chevy’s famous “Metro” hatchback, which was sold under the Geo nameplate in the early 90’s.  That car, the original Metro, which was a 147″ long, 1650 lb runabout that inspired futurists and shade-tree inventors alike.  The Aveo?  154″ long, 2560 lb.  Chevy’s replacement for the Aveo, the Sonic, is bigger still.

So, what cars are small cars, anymore?  What cars are big cars?  What do you think, readers – are our conceptions of “big” and “small” on a sliding scale, or are cars getting bigger because we are getting bigger?  Let us know what you think, in the comments.

Sources:  Me, Jalopnik,

About the Author

I've been in the auto industry 1997, and write for a number of blogs in the IM network. You can also find me on Twitter, at my Volvo fansite, or chasing my kids around Oak Park, IL.
  • I just went and bought a 2004 Toyota MR2 for just this reason. And I plan to convert it to an EV in the next year or so when I have the batteries I want available


  • ASG

    Great for those of you who fit into a 2004 MR2! However, I can barely fit my 6’8″ frame into my 2005 Accord (w/o sunroof for precious extra 1.5″ of headroom). And don’t talk to me about convertables either. I live in Oregon (aka Rain-Again), and when I drove my buddy’s BMW Z w/the top down I had to look over the winshield to see.

    We need EVs that are not just converted econo-boxes from the last gas crisis era….we need new design, new materials to keep the wieght down while providing an adequate cabin size for more than mere Hobbits.

    • The problem with that sentiment is that, at 6’8″, even the largest cars are going to be a snug fit. You might be best served by a CNG full-size van or pickup.

  • Turns out most people want to be comfortable (and feel safe) when they drive. Fuel economy is a good thing but I am willing to sacrifice ultimate economy in exchange for some level of comfort. I think most people fall under this category.

    Fact is they are still squeezing good economy out of these cars in spite of their size. Isn’t that a good thing?

    • No. No, it is not good that the manufacturers are squeezing “OK” numbers out of big cars, because we have an entire generation of people who are willing to say “screw the future” because they are unwilling to make even the tiniest sacrifice in their comfort and “wants” – and the excellent performance of the engineers at the automakers has just made it that much easier for people to justify their poor choices.

      MigMac, large fries, diet Coke.

      • I agree and disagree. I think it’s unfortunate that some people feel the need to own full-size SUVs. But consider the following comparison. The Smart Fortwo weighs 1650 lbs and gets 36 MPG city/hwy combined. The Chevrolet Cruze ECO weighs 2900 lbs and gets 33 city/hwy combined. That’s just a 3 MPG difference. You also get seating for 5 people and more luggage space in a Cruze. Another thing to consider is that a longer car can have a more aerodynamic shape. Partly due to less aerodynamic drag the Cruze ECO beats the Smart Fortwo in highway MPG (slightly) which pretty amazing considering the difference in weight and difference in the size of the engines.

        • I’d like to make one more point. Car safety standards have been raised in many ways over the years. In the days of the Geo Metro only a driver’s side airbag was required. The Chevrolet Cruze has 10 airbags. I’m not expert in these things but surely these increased safetly standards must add weight to the car. Recently, several small cars have received five star crash ratings.

          • ziv

            SUV safety figures have improved a great deal in the past 10 years since they began to get stability control in large numbers. In fact, SUV safety has improved a lot more than compact cars safety have improved, so SUV’s are even safer than they used to be compared to small cars.

          • Porsche’s 911 weighs LESS now than it did 15 years ago, and has all the safety upgrades the Chevys do. The difference is Porsche owners don’t typically hit the McDrive-thru 3 nights per week.

  • The “small” 2012 Chevy Sonic is longer, wider, and taller than the “midsize” 1978 Honda Accord.

    1978 Accord –
    Length: 162.8 in
    Width: 64.2 in
    Height: 53.9 in

    2012 Sonic –
    Length: 173.10 in
    Width: 68.3 in
    Height: 59.7 in

    Everything has gotten so big! This is why I laugh hysterically when ignorant people refer to huge vehicles like a Chevy Equinox or Toyota Rav4 as ‘small’ SUVs. LOL. They obviously never saw a Suzuki Samurai.

    • Also interesting…

      The 1989 Honda Civic Wagon had exterior length & width dimensions nearly identical to the current 2011 Honda Fit, except the 2011 Honda Fit is much more generous in height at 60″ tall.

      While the 2011 Honda Fit weighs a bit more than the 1989 Honda Civic Wagon, it achieves more power and better fuel economy.